Hitchhiking Tips and Tricks to be successful and SAFE!
Hitchhiking has a bad press and for several good reasons…..mainly because people have been attacked and killed while doing it. BUT its also true more people have been abducted off the streets while NOT hitchhiking. There is more a “myth” about the dangers of hitchhiking than actual risks involved, especially around the Appalachian Trail, where hitching into, and out of, town is not that uncommon. Of course there are more risks in certain situations than others, a single female in shorts and t-shirt is more likely to encounter an issue than a guy in dirty clothing and smelly beard (not to say there’s anything wrong with a guy in dirty clothing and a smelly beard). Hitchhiking is part of trail life and something you probably need to understand you will need to do, unless you want to take that 10 mile hike in and out of town!
My son and I hitched several times and did not encounter any issues at all, but being middle aged, smelly and bearded and my son being over 6ft and build like a quarterback its easy to why. In fact our issue was more getting someone to stop for us, I imagine most drivers were more concerned we was the ones to be scared of. We did however get several rides, even from single women drivers and some strategies in getting a ride are listed below. However on more than one occasion, despite lots of SUV’s and trucks passing, we never got anyone to stop. In fact we failed in getting rides more than we managed it and would have to call and pay for a shuttle or end up walking into town.
Our first experience of actually hitching was at Newfound Gap in the Smokies, the weather was horrendous, our water filter had frozen and was useless, my air pad burst so I was sleeping on frozen ground and we needed resupply. Gattlingburg is over 10 miles from the Gap and there is no prospect to safely walk the steep winding road. So I stood, in bitter cold winds, with every stitch of clothing I owned on and stuck out my thumb. Vehicle after vehicle drove by, SUV’s and trucks but not one stopped. Well that’s not quite true, some stopped to look, one even stopped and wound down their window to take a photo, but otherwise no offers of a ride. It was over an hour and there must of been over 100 vehicles in the parking area and passing us. Everyone was trying to get off the mountain as the rangers were closing the road due to the weather conditions. Then, all of a sudden, a nice brand new Merc stopped and a couple asked us if we wanted to get into town…….I mean a BRAND NEW leather seats Merc! We jumped in, felt a little guilty about being smelly and dirty in the new car, be happy to be headed into town. Luckily we did as the road closed less than 30 minutes after we was picked up!
We also got rides in a SAAB sports car, back of trucks and inside SUV’s. In Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee you couldn’t take a rest on the side of the road without someone stopping to offer you a ride, in the middle states (Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey) we found you could be laying in agony needing a doctor and people would drive by. In some states it is illegal to hitchhike and also pick up hitchhikers, in others its acceptable. I did get scolded by a Policeman once for having my thumb out on the side of a road. It many ways being successful in hitching a ride is more luck than technique, I mean what can be harder than holding a thumb out to your side! But there are tips that can raise your “luck level”:
Tips for Success:
- Try have a clean shirt or jacket to put on when you are ready to hitch. Clean off mud on your boots as best as possible. People are less likely to pick you up if they believe you will cover their vehicle in mud.
- If you have it available wear bright colors so you can be seen from a distance.
- When possible hitch at a marked trail head. Passing drivers will be more likely to pick you up as they know hikers stop for rides at trail heads. People that pass that location often will be used to seeing hikers there and may be ready to stop if they see one hitching.
- Be aware that hitchhiking may be illegal in the state you are in. AWOL’s guide gives hitchhiking guidance depending on the state you are in.
- Using a sign stating you are a hiker and headed to town or trail is an advantage. People are more likely to understand why this dirty, bearded vagrant needs a ride if they see the word “hiker”. “Hiker to Town” bandana
- Find a spot where you can be seen from a distance and has a safe stopping place. If you are on a blind bend or in a location that’s difficult for a driver to stop they will drive by.
- If you are hitching with others stand together so the driver knows your intent. It is not a great idea to have a female hitch and when the driver stops three guys step out the woods to join the ride! (I’ve seen this ploy used and it causes bad feeling and prevents that driver stopping for hikers in the future).
- Smile, wave, nod, be friendly. Be polite (don’t smoke or leave trash in ride)
- If you are in a larger town it is often easier to hitch from the trail side edge of town than the busy center. Head to the edge of town on a road that leads to the trail head you are wanting and hitch from there.
- Hitching when dark may not be as successful and clearly more dangerous.
- Don’t be afraid to ask around town for ride information, outfitters, resupply stores, restaurants, bars; especially in smaller towns are a great source of rides and save hitching on the roadside.
- If a truck stops offer to sit in the back, its better to offer and the driver tell you to get upfront than you just jump in.
- If you have something available to place on the seat to protect it, use it. (The “Hiker to Town” bandana is perfect for this)
- Always chat and be pleasant. Don’t forget thank you!
- Finally, ask yourself; would I pick me up? If not then make changes to increase your chances of success.
- If in any doubt, don’t accept the ride. Ask the driver where they are headed and tell them you are headed somewhere else. Or tell them your boyfriend/partner is just hiking to catch you and you will wait on them.
- If you know you are going to hitch then plan ahead. Women try find other hikers to join you in the hitch. Guys try find a woman to hitch with you. We had more success and faster pickup by being with a female hiker.
- Take a cell phone photo of license plate and text to a friend with location.
- If possible sit in the front seat. Rear doors can have a child lock on them. If you have to sit in the back check the child lock is off BEFORE you close the door.
- Keep your backpack in easy reach, then if needed you can grab it and leave.
- Keep your valuables on you rather than in your bag.